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10 Fierce Facts About Dire Wolves

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Think dire wolves are a hundred percent fictional? You know nothing, Jon Snow. George R.R. Martin may have an epic imagination, but he didn’t completely make up these Game of Thrones creatures. The powerful canines that we now call “dire wolves” (Canis dirus) did, in fact, patrol North America during Earth’s last ice age. And though they would have been dwarfed by their counterparts in Westeros, the prehistoric predators were still formidable enough to scare the crud out of any Lannister. 

1. They Were More Muscular than Today’s Grey Wolves ...

As the cliché goes, dire wolves weren’t fat—just big-boned. Despite being about the same length as the gray wolf, C. dirus exceeded its modern cousin (Canis lupus) in weight by roughly 25 percent, which means members of the extinct species weighed somewhere between 125 and 175 pounds. Dire wolf bones were broader overall and connected to large, enviable muscles. On the downside, the stocky C. dirus probably wasn't super-speedy, as evidenced by its proportionately shorter legs.

2. … And Their Bites Were More Powerful, Too.

Paleontologist François Therrien calculated that dire wolves could chomp down with 129 percent of the force available to their 21st-century cousins. Yet, in his view, the jaws of another long-extinct carnivore would have made both of them look relatively toothless. Therrien estimates that even the most forceful dire wolf bite was only 69 percent as strong as those inflicted by the American lion (Panthera atrox), which disappeared 11,000 years ago.

3. Dire Wolves Had a Taste for Horses.

These hoofed mammals formed the bulk of a dire wolf’s diet, as revealed by tooth analyses. But bison, mastodons, ancient camels, and giant ground sloths were also available, if the wolves felt like shaking things up a bit.

4. SoCal’s La Brea Tar Pits are a Dire Wolf Gold Mine.

Pyry Matikainen, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.5

Forget Winterfell: If you want to see some dire wolves, head to southern California. An awesome display case inside the Page Museum at the La Brea tar pits houses nearly 400 Canis dirus skulls. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—so far, the pits themselves have yielded more 200,000 individual dire wolf specimens. How did so many end up dying in the same place? Skip ahead to our next item.

5. Dire Wolves Coexisted with Saber-Toothed Cats.

Few prehistoric creatures are more iconic than the magnificent beast known scientifically as Smilodon fatalis. (Just so we're clear, those huge felines were not actually tigers.) After dire wolves, saber-toothed cats are the second most commonly-found mammal at the La Brea tar pits, where thousands of their bones have been discovered. In total, around 90 percent of La Brea’s mammalian fossils belonged to carnivores of some kind. That’s because, for several millennia, these pits functioned as a predator trap.

The process was fairly straightforward: When an herbivore would get stuck in the tar, hungry meat-eaters would come running, only to suffer an identical fate. As the corpses piled up, more and more carnivores were lured over, resulting in a local fossil record that disproportionately represents their population.

6. By Canine Standards, Dire Wolves Weren’t Especially Bright.

Dire wolves may have been stronger, but, by virtue of having bigger brain cases, grey wolves are likely smarter.

7. The Species Roamed from Canada to Bolivia.

Before they vanished 10,000 years ago, C. dirus must have been a common sight in the Western hemisphere.

8. Some Scientists Think They Originally Evolved in South America.

There’s been some debate as to which continent first gave rise to the dire wolf. While most paleontologists think the creature evolved on North American soil and spread southward, the opposite scenario is also possible. But because remains are much more common above the equator, and fossils from a probable ancestor named Canis armbusteri are found exclusively within U.S. borders, the first theory is far more popular.

9. Specimens from 12,000 Years Ago Broke Fewer Teeth than Those from 15,000 Years Ago.

When competition dries up, the pickings get better. It’s been suggested that dire wolves had to contend with more rival predators 15,000 years ago than they did later on. This forced them to scavenge carcasses that had already been stripped of the good stuff whenever other hunters drove off their live prey. Because bone-gnawing after meals can really take a toll on one’s teeth, C. dirus back then suffered from widespread dental woes. But theoretically, as their competitors started dying off, the dire wolves were left with more kills, meatier corpses, and healthier chompers.

10. One Organization is Trying to Breed Faux Dire Wolves.

The real thing is long gone, but we may still be able to create some pretty convincing stand-ins. Since 1988, the American Altisan Breeder’s Association has been combining various dog breeds “in order to bring back the look of the large prehistoric Dire Wolf.” The resulting pooches have been described as calm, shaggy, and “distinctly wolfy.” But be warned: one pup will set you back $3000, and there’s a sizable waiting list. On the bright side, you’ll have plenty of time to pick out a name—though we’re calling dibs on “Ghost.”

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Animals
14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
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Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they’re a bit of a mystery. Here’s more about this elusive animal.

1. Foxes Are Solitary.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they’re related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They’re medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a “leash of foxes” or a “skulk of foxes”—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.

2. Foxes Have A Lot In Common With Cats.

Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.

And that’s just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And—get this—many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

3. The Red Fox Is The Most Common Fox.

The red fox has the widest geographical range of any animal in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It’s also in Australia, where it’s considered an invasive species.

4. Foxes Use The Earth’s Magnetic Field.

Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this “magnetic sense,” but the fox is the first one we’ve discovered that uses it to catch prey.

According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth’s magnetic field as a “ring of shadow” on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it’s time to pounce. Here’s the fox in action:

5. Foxes Are Good Parents.

Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don’t open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. The vixen protects her pups with surprising loyalty. Recently, a fox pup was caught in a trap in England for two weeks, but survived because its mother brought it food every day.

6. The Smallest Fox Weighs Under 3 Pounds.

Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it’s wearing snowshoes.

7. Foxes Are Playful.

Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves as well as with other animals like cats and dogs. They love balls, which they frequently steal from golf courses.

Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and dog were buried together.

8. You Can Buy A Pet Fox.

In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They’re reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, although inclined to dig in your furniture.

9. Arctic Foxes Don’t Shiver Until –70 degrees Celsius.

The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn’t even get cold until –70 degrees Celsius. Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, the coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.

10. Fox Hunting Continues To Be Controversial.

Perhaps because of the fox’s ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.

11. The Fox Appears Throughout Folklore.

Examples include: the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop’s “The Fox and the Crow.” The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase “fox fires.”

12. Bat-eared Foxes Listen For Insects.

The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, the fox walks along the African Savannah, listening, until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.

13. Darwin Discovered A Fox Species.

During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin’s Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox’s greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.

14. Foxes Sound Like This.

Foxes make 40 different sounds, some of which you can listen to here. The most startling is the scream:

Pleasant dreams!

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise stated.

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Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
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Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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